Peter Aspden talks to New York’s Metropolitan Museum’s director, Thomas Campbell, about the Met’s need for a new role:
The Met is even beginning to plug into the crowd-pleasing circus that is the contemporary art world, with a forthcoming exhibition on John Baldessari that would have been a more obvious fit at the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim. Campbell feels the Met has had a “bad rap” in terms of engaging with late modern and contemporary art, which has always been part of its programming. The difference now is “the recognition that there is a sizeable audience [for it] and we can, here at the Met, put it in the context of our encyclopaedic collections of art history, which is a very different experience from seeing it only in its own context”.
That engagement with contemporary art is part of what he describes as a “fundamental shift” in the presentation of the Met’s displays, helping to make them more accessible. “We assume a great deal of knowledge in our audience; I’m conscious that we need to do more for our general visitors.
“We assume people know who Rembrandt is, for example. We have wonderful, thoughtful labels next to each Rembrandt painting, but there’s no overview of who he was and, frankly, considering our international audience, I doubt whether many of them do know who [he] was, or the significance of a particular period room, in a broader context.
“What I’m trying to do is to get the museum rethinking the visitor experience from the moment that people arrive at the museum: the signage they encounter, the bits of paper they pick up, all the way through to the way we deliver information in the galleries. And obviously that’s an enormous task. We’ve got a million square feet of gallery space and tens of thousands of objects on display, so nothing’s going to change overnight.”
Met on the Move (Financial Times)